DOCUTAH International Documentary Film Festival
Keeping It Reel
In a media market saturated with movies, film fests feel ubiquitous; a dime a dozen. Online hubs for film competitions like FilmFreeway or Withoutabox have a huge stockpile of film fests looking for worthy entries. The Docutah Film Festival, however, stands apart because of its venue.
“What better place to bring documentary material than to a college campus where students and faculty can tap into entries for courses being taught,” says Phil Tuckett, Dixie State University associate professor of digital film and Docutah Film Festival founder and executive producer (docutah.com). “Even if no one else comes, it’s right here on campus serving that purpose. It’s a great opportunity that’s very rare.”
Docutah is also a fest for showcasing the unscripted. That’s by design. Tuckett comes from a solid background of sports visuals via NFL Films where he was vice president of special projects. He doesn’t want manufactured drama. No scripted lines manipulated by studio talent. He wants authenticity. He wants reality.
“Even though I like watching scripted films, I love even more the subject matter that comes from the documentary world where nobody wrote a script and created a character,” Tuckett says. “These are things that come out of everyday life that you really couldn’t make up if you tried. The variety is endless.”
Tuckett’s story reads like one of these documentaries — one you couldn’t make up if you tried. With a trifecta of athletic talent growing up, Tuckett played football, basketball and baseball through college. He attended Dixie State University before playing pro football for a season with the San Diego Chargers. After 38 years with NFL Films, DSU called with a job offer. He won the hiring committee over with an idea that popped into his head during the interview a decade ago.
I pitched the film fest idea during my interview and was subsequently hired to start a film program here,” Tuckett says. “Docutah turns nine this year.”
The fest grows annually in quality and credibility. Of the nearly 300 entries, only 65 made the final cut in 2017. Sixty percent of selected entries are represented by the filmmaker in person at the six-day event. They mingle with the September back-to-school crowd, bringing worldwide film talent to campus.
“Even if they don’t win an award, they’re treated like gold,” Tuckett says. “At bigger festivals they’re an afterthought, but it’s just the opposite here. We don’t have a red carpet, but our students idolize them, ask them questions and get their autographs.”
Docutah doesn’t provide a huge revenue stream for DSU, but its value holds weight beyond wallet. It puts film students in the world they’re shooting for. It also puts the St. George community in the critic’s chair. Twenty-nine groups, each comprised of six locals, are the fest’s community screeners. They don’t have final say in what shows, but they do have pull. Every entry is watched — even the ones that are heavy on time and light on talent.
“This is someone’s baby. They’ve worked on it, spending their blood, toil and money,” Tuckett says. “We at least owe them the dignity of watching the whole film. No one dumps out early even if you know in the first 10 minutes of 45 that it’s going to be awful.”
Awful comes up often in the film scene. In fact, when Tuckett surveyed other fests for advice before starting Docutah, awful was the common denominator. Organizers warned him about everything from wasting time to losing money. He took their words as a challenge and ran with it.
“We proved the naysayers wrong,” he says. “We’re certainly proud of what we’ve accomplished, and we’ll continue to prove them wrong.”